— Interview with Renae Gaudette —
Winmark Corporation’s 1,270+ stores have made their mark on the resale retail industry during unprecedented times — and continue to lead the way.
While traditional retail took a dive over the last 18 months, Winmark – the Resale Company® — the definitive leader in the resale retail arena — saw a marked uptick in demand for quality used clothing, fitness, sporting goods, music gear and baby items. As the parent company to Once Upon A Child®, Plato’s Closet®, Play It Again Sports®, Music Go Round® and Style Encore®, Winmark has these markets covered — and then some. The company has over 2,800 available territories for new franchisees across all five brands, has its eyes set on aggressive North American franchise development. Recently, we interviewed Renae Gaudette, president of franchising, to learn more about Winmark’s winning strategy.
R&R: How many resale retail stores total does Winmark Corporation operate?
Renae Gaudette: All 1,270+ locations across North America are 100% franchised and owned and operated by our great franchise partners.
R&R: Did you open new stores during the 2020 pandemic year?
Gaudette: We opened 26 stores in 2020.
R&R: Would you like to discuss each brand and how many stores you have for each?
Gaudette: All of our brands are focused on sustainability through buying and selling gently used items. Each are leaders in their respected industry, whether it be sporting goods, teen and young adult clothing, women’s clothing, children’s items, or musical instruments — our focus is to make it convenient for customers to sell us their goods and in return they get immediate cash payment. It’s good for the environment, good for the community, and we have a proven record of success for our franchisees to be successful entrepreneurs.
R&R: What makes franchisees love (and stay with) Winmark year after year?
Gaudette: We provide world-class support from initial startup to providing solutions of the ongoing challenges that all small business owner face. In addition to the dedicated team at Winmark to support them, they also have the strong network of franchisees across all of our brands to utilize as part of their support. Many franchisees were customers of one of our brands prior to joining the franchise system.
R&R: Where are you based? When was Winmark founded?
Gaudette: We are located in Minneapolis and have been franchising since 1988. We rebranded as Winmark in early 2000.
R&R: What is your preferred type of real estate and average square footage?
Gaudette: Our preferred is in-line shopping centers near power retail areas. Our average square feet is between 3,000 and 4,500, depending on the brand.
R&R: How did Winmark handle the height of the pandemic and store closures? How did you pivot and adapt? What safety measures were implemented? You added new e-commerce sites, etc.?
Gaudette: We supported our franchisees through the pandemic by pivoting quickly to e-commerce, social selling and guidance on reopening strategies to keep stores clean, safe and open for their customers. While every market and country had their protocols, our franchisees adapted quickly and performed beyond expectations.
R&R: How has the pandemic affected how people shop and where their priorities are now, particularly when it comes to resale retail?
Gaudette: Winmark – the Resale Company® and its five brands are the leaders in the resale industry because our 1,270+ locations are individually owned and operated, are local ‘buying’ centers, and are uniquely positioned as the most sustainable local solution for customers to both sell us quality used but also buy used. Our goal is to meet customers where they are at — whether online through e-commerce or social selling, and we want them to come to our stores to sell us their gently used items and experience our wonderful brands in-person too.
R&R: Even before the pandemic, people were becoming more eco-conscious and aware of the pitfalls for our planet by “fast fashion.” When did you start seeing this shift in consumer thinking? Buying used not just to save money but also the planet?
Gaudette: The resale industry has been growing for years, but the shift in thinking has really changed in the last 10 years in regards to the impact “fast fashion” has had in the industry. We are proud that our brands, especially our teen and young adult brand, Plato’s Closet, has been at the forefront of responsible, sustainable practices in the clothing industry. We have trained an entire generation on the benefits of both buying and selling gently used clothing. In 2021 alone, our brands kept over 150 million items out of landfills.
R&R: Related to this pledge to reuse rather than throw away, tell me how the company gives back to its community by donating items to local elementary and high schools, churches and non-profits that have programs built for low-income families.
Gaudette: Our franchisees have developed many relationships with charities in their communities. In addition to the value we provide to families through the products we buy and sell, our franchisees have the opportunity to support their charities, schools and other organizations through item donations.
R&R: Do you rely primarily on national vendors? Or a mixture of national and regional providers?
Gaudette: We have a network of preferred vendors that our franchisees utilize.
R&R: By what criteria do you choose your vendors?
Gaudette: Whether it’s a product vendor or a service vendor, we have a strong vetting process to make sure they offer the best service at competitive rates for our franchisees to utilize.
R&R: What is unique about maintaining your facilities as compared to other retailers?
Gaudette: Our franchisees maintain their own facilities. We have some vendors they use but we give them latitude.
R&R: What do you enjoy most about your job on a daily basis?
Gaudette: We love supporting our franchisees in their journey as small business owners. They are working hard at executing a successful model and, in turn, they provide us with insight on what works, what doesn’t and how we can continue to improve our franchise model. It is rewarding to see the success they have had and the impact they have made on their families and the community.
R&R: What are some of your future goals you’ve set?
Gaudette: Winmark – the Resale Company® is on a simple mission to provide Resale to Everyone™. Our brands are the leaders in the retail resale industry, and our franchisee partners are executing at a high level. Our goal is to find more franchise partners to fill those 2,800+ territories so that every community has the opportunity to benefit from our brands, and similarly those franchisees are awarded the opportunity to be part of a successful network of sustainable resale brands.
— This article originally appeared as the cover story of the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Retail & Restaurant Facility Business. Email the editor, Katie Lee, at [email protected].